Deebo Samuel

Report: Teams shifting WR draft strategy to mimic 49ers' physicality

NBC Universal, Inc.

Deebo Samuel's strength and size reshaped the 49ers' offense after they selected him in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, representing a shift in their wide receiver philosophy geared toward physicality.

And now, other teams reportedly are trying to keep up with San Francisco.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Matt Miller reported Monday that he has heard "a lot" from league scouts about how teams are changing their wide receiver strategies to mimic the 49ers' mindset on picking physical pass-catchers.

In Kyle Shanahan's system, wideouts can do it all -- catching deep balls like track stars while still breaking tackles like a running back and blocking like a tight end. The star "wide back" Samuel is a prime example of that, and San Francisco followed up that 2019 pick with versatile first-rounder Brandon Aiyuk and the sizeable Jauan Jennings during the last round in 2020.

Their most recent pick at the position, seventh-rounder Ronnie Bell, fits the mold perfect and already fits right in with the rest of the group.

“I think not the biggest package, but real tough, physical and gritty player with the ball in his hands,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said of Bell after the draft. “He made a lot of big [college] plays in big moments.” 

Shanahan has said in the past that drafting Samuel was representative of the organization's pivot toward more physical receivers. And while that trait certainly does help in the run-blocking game, he expanded on the team's logic earlier this month after the 49ers opened up the 2023 NFL season with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"Even smaller guys, I feel like we’ve always had real willing blockers. That actually didn’t really have much to do with it at all. I always thought separation to me is always the biggest strength of receivers," Shanahan told reporters on Sept. 15. "You want guys who can get open versus man coverage and how they’re wired with quickness and stuff like that. But I felt sometimes in years past, going for those type of guys, we couldn’t defeat a holding all the time and not a blatant holding, but good holding. When you jam someone, you get your hands on them, you don’t let them go because you’re in tight.

"That was harder with some of the smaller guys and got a little frustrated with that. Instead of complaining all the time about not having holding calls, we thought it could be beneficial to maybe have a little less of that and get some stronger guys, which didn’t have to depend on always not getting held.”

A frustration with a lack of holding calls led to a draft philosophy that now appears to be sweeping the league -- and for good reason.

The 49ers' offense recently made history as the first NFL team to rush and pass for at least 140 yards through eight consecutive regular-season games under young quarterback Brock Purdy. The unit is a well-oiled machine, with plenty of elbow grease coming from the wide receiver room.

So who can blame the rest of the NFL? The 49ers' strategy clearly is working.

Download and follow the 49ers Talk Podcast

Contact Us